Dr. Sarena Abdullah, Senior Lecturer at the School of the Arts, Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) is the inaugural holder of the London, Asia Research Award.
Selected through a competitive application process, she will carry out research at Asia Art Archive (AAA) in Hong Kong and at the Paul Mellon Centre (PMC) in London and other archives and libraries in the UK.
Sarena’s project will explore the artistic relationship between Malaysia and Britain in the 1950s and 1960s. She described her project as questioning the “nationalistic rendition of Malaysian art history which always has Kuala Lumpur as its centre.”
As a result, she noted, exchanges between Malaysian artists and centres such as London during the 1950s and 1960s have not been examined in the context of Malaysian history.
The impact of the West in particular, especially Britain, was important in the early formation of modern art institutions in Malaysia.
Sarena’s research will examine how the London-Kuala Lumpur links formed, evolved, and were later supported in the postcolonial context of Malaya. She will explore how the knowledge of modern art and the transfer of cultural ideas can be reconstructed through the interrelated networking of artists and art educators, between the colonial centre and its periphery and vice versa, from the late 1950s to the mid-1970s.
This research will involve an investigation of early art educators and a few Malaysian artists who attained their formal art education in Britain.
A second part of this project will focus on the various international exhibitions hosted by the Malaysia National Visual Arts Gallery from the late 1950s to late 1970s, such as the exhibitions organised by the Commonwealth Institute, London.
Sarena will present the findings of her research sponsored by the London, Asia Research Award through talks and events in London and Hong Kong.